Vitus Bering

(Behring)

1681–1741

Vitus Bering was a Danish navigator in the Russian Navy and the first European to discover Alaska and its surrounding islands. The Bering Strait is among several northern landmarks that earned their name from the explorerís extensive voyages along the Russian coast.

Bering joined the Russian Navy in 1703 and took part in both the Great Northern War and the Russo-Turkish War. Ten years after his final return home, he was commissioned by Peter I of Russia to lead an expedition to map the length of the Siberian coast. Peter hoped to determine whether the continents of Asia and America were the same landmass. Bering set out from the Kamchatka Peninsula in 1728 and sailed northward through the strait that now bears his name. Observing that the Russian coast scaled westward with no land in the North, Bering returned to his starting point, believing he had fulfilled his mission. While in Kamchatka, however, he noticed signs of lands to the East, but poor weather forced him to return instead to St. Petersburg. After receiving a reward for his discoveries, Bering immediately proposed a second, more thorough, exploration of the same area. By 1740, he had established a settlement in Kamchatka and sailed eastward toward North America. After being separated from his companions during a storm, Bering glimpsed the southern coast of Alaska, and he docked at Kayak Island to better investigate his discovery. In what is today known as the Great Northern Expedition, Bering and his partner Chirikov extensively explored the northwestern coast of America. After adverse weather forced him to turn for home, Bering discovered more uninhabited land, the Aleutian Islands. The explorer soon fell ill and passed away on one of the islands, named Bering Island in his honor. Though he did not realize it at the time, Bering was the first to pass between Asia and America and thus prove them separate continents.


Key events during the life of Vitus Bering:


Year
Event
1681
Born
1703
Joined the Russian Navy
1710
Took part in the Russo-Turkish War
1725
Peter I of Russia asked Bering to command an expedition to find the furthest reaches of Siberia
1728
Set out on his first expedition and discovered several land masses East of Russia
1731
Received a reward for his discoveries; proposed a second expedition
1740
Established a settlement in Kamchatka
1741
Led an expedition to North America and discovered Alaska
1741
Died on Bering Island, in Russia

Other Resources


Story Links
Book Links
Behring Finds His Straight  in  A Book of Discovery  by  M. B. Synge


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